Enner Valencia

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CCL wrap: Stoppage-time GK goal saves Tigres; Henry’s Montreal grinds it out

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Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League nearly featured an upset for the ages.

It will have to be content with a finish for all time.

El Salvador’s Alianza came back from a 4-2 aggregate deficit to nearly knock UANL Tigres out of the CCL, but Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman provided a stoppage time goal to eliminate the upstarts.

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Tigres will now meet Ronny Delia’s New York City FC, who had little trouble holding up its first-leg lead over San Carlos.

Thierry Henry’s Montreal had to sweat out a scoreless draw with Saprissa, but rode its two away goals to a date with either Seattle or Olimpia.

Guatemala’s Comunicaciones and Club America are the final match of Wednesday, kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

UANL Tigres 4-2 (5-4 agg.) Alianza

What a match. Down 2-1 after one leg, Tigres scored thrice in the first 23 minutes. Ex-West Ham man Enner Valencia struck first before Andre-Pierre Gignac score in the 17th and 23rd.

But Juan Carlos Portillo scored twice in nine minutes before halftime to put the away goals advantage in the Salvadorans’ corner.

Tigres out-attempted Alianza 19-6 but couldn’t get it done, and my goodness did it need shot No. 19 from its Argentine international backstop.

Great header for a goalie.

Montreal Impact 0-0 (2-2 agg.) Deportivo Saprissa

This was a dreadful match, but it won’t bother Titi too much; Henry’s men had just 31 percent of the ball and nearly scored anyway through Shamit Shome.

The Impact showed a lot of guts and discipline in frustrating the Costa Ricans, who were disappointed when Clement Diop made an incredible save in the 89th minute.

NYCFC 1-0 (6-3 agg.) San Carlos

Alexander Callens scored the lone goal of the contest, the damage done in Costa Rica last week.

Speaking of damage done, Delia had a “Welcome to CONCACAF officiating” moment.

 

Alexis Sanchez secures win for Chile over Ecuador

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Chile wasn’t exactly at its attacking best they displayed against Japan in the opener, but it got the job done as Alexis Sanchez and Jose Fuenzalida provided the firepower in a 2-1 win over Ecuador. The three points moved Chile into sole possession of the lead in Group C and secured a spot in the knockout stage for the defending champions.

The game had an edge from the opening whistle as Sebastian Mendez, newly installed into the Ecuador midfield after riding the bench for the opening loss to Uruguay, received a third minute yellow card for barging through the back of Charles Aranguiz. That spurred Chile on and they opened the scoring before the 10-minute mark, the second early goal Ecuador has conceded in its two Copa America matches.

Fuenzalida was the man to finish it off as a corner swung in and the ball pinged around the box until it rolled out to the 34-year-old where he fired a shot that found the inside of the far post. It put Ecuador behind early again after they shipped a sixth-minute opener to Nicolas Lodeiro and Uruguay a few days ago.

The game ground to a halt past the 20-minute mark as Chile settled in with the lead, but Ecuador found a moment with Chile a bit too relaxed. With Jefferson Orejuela on the ball in midfield and staring at acres of space down the middle, he burst forward and lofted a ball over the top to Romario Ibarra. The Minnesota United frontman lifted his leg up to tap the ball out of the air and to his teammate Mendez charging into the box. With Gary Medel left in Mendez’s wake, Chile goalkeeper Gabriel Arias came out of net and looked to smother the chance but instead chopped down Mendez and the referee awarded the clear penalty. Enner Valencia stepped up and blasted the ball through for Ecuador’s first goal of the tournament, leveling the game at 1-1.

In a tournament marred by constant VAR controversies, the problems continued as the referee initially gave nothing for a clear dive by Romario Ibarra under pressure from Arias. In a replay review that took nearly five minutes, the referee decided to change his decision and give a yellow card to Arias instead of carding Ibarra for simulation. All in all, it was the first yellow for Arias after he was not cautioned for the penalty earlier – which he should have been – so the farcical VAR booking thankfully did not see him sent off.

The second half started drab, but Chile bided its time and grabbed the lead in the 51st minute as an Aranguiz cross came in from the end line right of net and sailed the scrum in front of goal, only to fall at the back post where Alexis Sanchez was waiting. The Manchester United attacker delivered a pinpoint volley that chipped Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and found the top-right corner.

Both sides had chances after Chile went ahead, but the defending champions looked more likely to score. Erick Pulgar nearly put Chile 3-1 up in the 65th minute but his bullet header off a corner was athletically saved by Dominguez with a diving stop to keep the ball from sneaking in under the crossbar. With time winding down, Ecuador’s job became monumental after Gabriel Achilier was sent off with a straight red card after a stray forearm caught Arturo Vidal in the head on an aerial challenge, and the referee immediately had his decision made.

Ecuador had little left to offer as Chile successfully saw out the game and picked up its second win of the group stage, securing a spot in the next round and eliminating Ecuador. Chile will round out the group stage with a match against Uruguay that will mean something for their opponents who have not yet secured a spot in the knockouts after slipping to a draw with Japan.

Monterrey wins CONCACAF Champions League

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Nicolas Sanchez’s 25th minute penalty on Wednesday gave Monterrey its fourth CONCACAF Champions League title via a 2-1 aggregate win over UANL Tigres.

The 1-1 second leg draw followed last week’s 1-0 away win for Rayados.

Winners in 2011, 2012, and 2013 prior to this campaign, Rayados now have the fourth-most titles in CCL history.

It’s a very rough third CCL final loss in four years for UANL.

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Marc-Andre Gignac scored for Tigres in the loss.

After sneaking past Honduran side Alianza 1-0 in the first round, Monterrey hit its stride with a comfortable quarterfinal defeat of Atlanta United and a straight-up demolition of Sporting KC in the semis.

Tigres’ former West Ham man Enner Valencia led the tournament in scoring, while Sanchez paced the champions with five.

An MLS team has not won the tournament under its current name, the league last lifting a trophy via the LA Galaxy in 2000.

USMNT-Ecuador preview: Competition level rises

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team has never allowed a goal, albeit with a bevy of MLS players in the USMNT shirt going against domestic-based players from Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday’s opponent is Ecuador, and this is a proper international break. No, La Tricolor won’t present the same challenge as Chile, who visits Houston on March 26, but Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia are a step up from the CONCACAF visitors of January and February.

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The U.S. is unbeaten in its last three matches against Ecuador, winning two and drawing one. The last meeting was during Jurgen Klinsmann’s remarkable Copa America Centenario, as the Yanks navigated Jermaine Jones’ 52nd minute red card and both sides played most of the second half with 10 men in a 2-1, Clint Dempsey-inspired win.

Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t as young this go-round, with Michael Bradley, Tim Ream, and Gyasi Zardes among those who’ve featured for several American coaches.

It’s also the first time U.S. fans will see Christian Pulisic since his sale to Chelsea and loan back to Dortmund, likely playing attacking center midfield as the most important piece of the Yanks’ XI (with apologies to John Brooks).

What will be second-most in focus for U.S. fans is Tyler Adams as right back, a move which makes sense in Berhalter’s possession system where the RB is stationed as a center mid, but takes the 20-year-old out of the center of the park when the opposition has the ball.

This most likely says that Berhalter is unwilling to take Bradley out of his lineup just yet, because Schalke’s Weston McKennie is likely to start as is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. And it also isn’t a ringing endorsement of Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who Berhalter is calling a winger despite a distinct problem with his finishing touch.

But GB knows his stuff, and in some ways the Ecuador match is a logical progression towards a Chile which will put Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, and a back line with more than 300 combined caps on the pitch next week. So handle Ecuador, and move forward.

Official: First full USMNT squad will face Ecuador

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Hours before Gregg Berhalter’s second match as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, U.S. Soccer officially announced the USMNT’s next opponent.

The USMNT will open the March FIFA international week with a friendly match against Ecuador on Thursday, March 21 in Orlando, Fla. La Tricolor missed out on the 2018 World Cup but still features a quality side headlined by Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. FC Dallas’ Carlos Gruezo, Tigres UANL’s Enner Valencia and West Bromwich Albion’s Jefferson Montero are also regulars in the squad.

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“Ecuador has an experienced, athletic team that will provide a good test for our group. We will use this opportunity to continue to build on the foundation of the team as we develop our style of play,” Berhalter said in a statement. “Playing in Orlando City Stadium is a great soccer experience – the atmosphere is fantastic.”

The match against Ecuador is the first in a two-match series against South American sides in March. In late January, U.S. Soccer announced the USMNT would host Chile in Houston, Texas on March 26, five days after the match in Orlando.